She Did It!

Why are all the ladies crying?

If you’ve been watching the Democratic convention this week, you’ve seen a lot of women in the audience with tears streaming down their faces. On my Facebook page, several female friends have commented that they have been crying too. I’ve lost it a few times. In fact, last weekend, sitting in a theater watching the “Ghostbusters” reboot with my niece and nephew–who were enjoying it immensely, totally oblivious to the transgressive nature of an all-female cast–it happened again.

What is going on?? We can’t all be on our periods!

At the same time, I’ve noticed in public discourse, and especially among my students, a distinct ennui. I think Hillary Clinton has been in the public eye so long, and women have come so far, that many people–especially young people–regard her candidacy as an inevitability. I thought about pointing out the historical significance of her nomination in my own classroom this afternoon, and trying to explain all the tears. As a humanities professor, it would be mostly within bounds. But in the end, I didn’t want to incur the heavy sighs, eye rolls, and negative online comments that would surely result. I kept silent.

This is what I would have told them:

When my mother went to college in 1959, she had three career options reasonably available to her: secretary, nurse, or teacher. Back then, college for women was regarded as a fall-back in case they didn’t get married. My mother became a teacher. I wonder what she might have done if she’d had more choices.

When my sister was a little girl, her class took a field trip to the local firehouse. The boys were allowed to climb on the big red truck and sit in the cab, but the girls were not. Because, the little girls were told as they watched the boys play, you can’t become firemen when you grow up. (Not firefighters, firemen.)

When I was in fourth grade, our class did a big unit on the Middle Ages. There were many assignments and academic opportunities to earn points. The student with the highest number of points would become “king,” which conferred certain privileges in the class. I worked my ass off, and I bested the nearest competitor–a boy, Jim J*********i, whose name I will never forget–by 10 or 15 points. On the verge of me–a girl–becoming “king” of the class, my teacher decided that a leader should also be able to demonstrate strength–physical strength. The entire class was marched down to the gym, where we all had to demonstrate how many pull-ups we could do. I did 2 or 3 (I was not an athlete). Jim did over 20. With each additional pull-up, the class cheered him, and I watched the value of my academic success diminish. Jim became king, not me. I felt betrayed and bereft. I can’t imagine how the girl in my class with cerebral palsy, who couldn’t even reach for the bar, must have felt.

janis
What would a public school do today if a student had “dyke” scrawled all over her locker?

When I was a junior in high school, I had a picture of Janis Joplin–a famous nude that I cut out of an anniversary edition of Rolling Stone magazine–in my locker. Some boys broke into my locker, tore up the picture, and scrawled “dyke” all over the door. My friend Alicia saw them do it, and she told me their names. I reported them to the disciplinary officer, who did nothing.

Also in high school, my health teacher–a man charged by our state with teaching young people about sex and relationships–announced on the first day of class that he would be assigning seats. He said, out loud, to a room full of boys and girls, that he would be putting all the pretty girls in the front row. And he did it. (Yes, I sat in the back.)

My senior year, I was repeatedly and aggressively groped by a hulking sack of shit named Kurt F*****n as I walked in the crowded halls of my high school. I did not report it, because why would I? In fact, at the time, I didn’t really understand that there was something wrong with what he did–that my body was mine, and no one had a right to touch it without my consent.

In college in the early ’90s, I was the only woman in a class in a male-dominated field. One woman, in a class of ninety. I had two majors and took a million credits, and yet I only had 7 or 8 female professors in four years of college. At present, I am part of a faculty in which women are well represented, but I have also worked on a faculty in which women were just five of forty. 

(There is no way, in an age when a majority of doctorates in my field go to women, that that number is not the result of systemic discrimination. Two years after leaving there, I was approached by a female faculty member who was considering a lawsuit over equal pay.)

In the workplace, I have dealt with harassment in a few contexts, including my present job. Every time my former dean inquired about my dating life, discussed pornography, talked about my body, stared at my breasts, or patted my head like a dog, I felt angry, humiliated, and powerless.

I once took an inventory of my friends and realized that the number of girls and women I know who had been sexually assaulted ran into the double digits. Eighteen months ago, I added myself to that list. Only one of all those cases was reported to the police, and none of them resulted in prosecution, let alone someone being convicted of a crime.

This is my inventory, after just 44 years. When I think back on it, I feel sad and angry, but mostly just weary. I and my mother and sister and most of my friends–we are middle-class white ladies. Women decades older than me, poor women, women of color–I can’t imagine the inventories they must have, the indignities they must have endured.

Why are all the ladies crying?

We are crying because we are thinking about all the times we felt afraid, objectified, degraded, diminished, and powerless–because we were women.

And we are thinking back to the girls we once were, and to the women who came before us. We are crying because we thought we might never live to see this day.

And we are so fucking proud–politics aside–to finally see a woman standing up there.

The Lost Hour

In less than an hour, it will be two hours from now–such is the wonder of Daylight Savings.

We will all wake up groggy and cranky in the morning. Those who use their cell phones as alarms, or who remembered to advance their old-school clocks, will awake on time but poorer for the loss of an hour’s sleep. Those who forgot about the time change will awake refreshed, but irritated as shit that they are late for brunch or church or Sunday Funday. The academics will simply go to work.

For all us college folk, Sunday is a work day, because there is school the next day. And for thousands of us, this particular Sunday marks not just the end of the weekend, but the end of spring break… also known as, The Last Time I Will Feel Rested Until May.

On my spring “break,” I worked every single day. The break part involved some long walks with the dog and a friend, but that was it–no dinners out, no drinking, no shopping, no gardening, no travel, nothing but work and a little laundry. For all of that deprivation, I have almost nothing to show. My kitchen is clean, I have clean underwear, and the checkbook is balanced. But the taxes remain undone, the basement still reeks of mold, and the floors need to be shaved, there’s so much dog hair floating about. And I barely penetrated The List–the epic list that all academics maintain of projects that must be managed, papers that must be graded, knowledge that must be produced.

Forty minutes left.

For a blog that is supposed to help me work out whether I want to continue in my current profession, it has not escaped my notice that I hardly ever write about my job. My feelings are too complex, and the task of untangling it feels too onerous. It’s just easier to focus on bad dates and old wounds.

Thirty minutes left.

Here is my to-do list:

  • Grade 41 undergraduate essays 3-5 pages in length.
  • Grade 9 graduate book reviews, 3-5 pages in length.
  • Offer 14 graduate students feedback on their research projects.
  • Read and offer feedback on a doctoral dissertation.
  • Read and offer feedback on a doctoral dissertation proposal.
  • Prep lecture notes for two courses.
  • Revise a syllabus for which I am hopelessly behind.
  • Calculate midterm grades for 20 undergraduates and upload them. Write an evaluation of a learning disabled student.
  • Send three thoughtful emails to job candidates about their interviews.
  • Write an apologetic, but not too apologetic, email to a bunch of scholars who are really mad at me for dropping the ball on a shared project.
  • Answer a bunch of emails and do a bunch of paperwork related to my administrative job.
  • Figure out if I want to resign from my administrative job.

Twenty-five minutes left.

These are the tasks I have to do by Monday. And they do not include the writing–two 7,000-character essays and a chapter-length essay–that are months over due. I told myself that I could not return from spring break without completing them, because I would never find the time until the summer. They were to be my highest priority. I haven’t even started.

And when I say I haven’t even started, I mean, I haven’t even started researching them.

Why am I so behind at my work? What do I do all day? Where does the time go?

I can tell you where it went this week, and every week. It went towards administrative responsibilities. Most people don’t understand how universities function, that they run off of the invisible, uncompensated labor of faculty (and staff) who are leveraged to perform this work through a variety of means that never seem to involve money: there’s guilt, that students will be harmed; the promise of tenure/threat of being fired; and the unwillingness to let friends and colleagues suffer as a result of one’s own recalcitrance. Most of us put our heads down and forge ahead.

Twenty minutes.

I joke that my administrative job is 10 percent of my salary but 50 percent of my time. It’s a terrible joke, because it’s true, and because I can’t pay my mortgage with terrible jokes. I was told that this job would involve “the least amount of work you can do and still call yourself an administrator.” That would have been true if I were constitutionally capable of doing a shitty job, if I had no belief in the integrity of my university or the sanctity of education, and if I constantly overlooked glaring problems of inefficiency and rank incompetence. But I’m not, and I didn’t, and I can’t. Someday I will write a post about the absurdities I’ve encountered in this job… like…

…the professor who told an applicant she was a shoo-in for admission to a graduate program she wasn’t remotely qualified to enter. And then the professor mishandled issuing the denial of admission. And then the applicant went bonkers. Bonkers. As in, 2,000-word emails in the middle of the night, “I’m being persecuted like Martin Luther King,” “You need to be punished,” BONKERS. That mess took six months to clean up.

Nine minutes left.

At a university, they call this kind of work “service,” and it accounts for 20 percent of our performance evaluations. The  problem, of course, is that teaching accounts for 40 percent of our performance evaluations, and research activity accounts for about 80 percent. Granted, I’m in the humanities, but…I think there’s a problem with the math. So I grind out the service during the school year, I give my students the best of what’s left over, and I make up the scholarship (research, writing, publishing, presenting at conferences) on spring break and over the summer. I have taken perhaps a week off from work altogether–as in, seven days without doing so much as an email–in the last five years.

In two minutes it will be daylight savings time. The clock on this laptop will spring forward to three AM. And I will be one hour further behind.